AREVA’S dirty little secret

Feature story - 6 May, 2010
In one of the poorest nations in the world, French nuclear giant AREVA is extracting precious—and deadly—natural resources, earning billions for its Fortune 500 corporation while the people pay the price. Our latest report exposes the unsafe everyday living conditions of the people of Niger as AREVA mines precious uranium from their land to fuel their attempts at a new nuclear revolution.

Our latest report exposes the unsafe everyday living conditions of the people of Niger as AREVA mines precious uranium from their land to fuel their attempts at a new nuclear revolution.

Local women collect water outside Akokan village, close to a uranium mine owned by French company AREVA.

AREVA currently has activities in over 100 countries and aggressively pushes nuclear energy in new markets globally. Its PR teams work overtime to convince governments, investors and the general public that nuclear energy is now a safe, clean, and ’green’ technology. While the nuclear industry is trying to have us believe that the waste can be cleaned up, buried under some mountain and forgotten for a few thousand years or that the plants generating energy with deadly waste are safe, they are covering up the deadly effects acquiring the fuel that nuclear energy requires.

There are few places where these harmful effects are felt more than Niger, Africa. Arid desert, scarce arable land and intense poverty are huge problem here already – along with unemployment, minimal education, illiteracy, poor infrastructure and political instability. However, Niger is rich in mineral resources - like uranium - and AREVA has been mining there for years. Half of AREVA’S uranium comes from Niger, one of Africa's poorest countries despite being the world's third uranium producer since more than 40 years. AREVA, the world-leader in nuclear energy and Niger's leading employer, has also signed a deal to start tapping a third mine in the desert nation starting in 2013 or 2014.
    
We went to Niger to investigate the impacts on the people and the land in the towns where AREVA is pulling the precious uranium from the earth. Analysis, performed in collaboration with the France-based Research and Independent Information on Radioactivity Commission (CRIIRAD) showed that the uranium contamination in four out of five water samples exceed World Health Organisation safety limits. We also found evidence of radon, a radioactive gas dissolved in water. There are great clouds of dust from the detonations and drilling in the mines; mountains of industrial waste and sludge sitting in huge piles. The shifting of millions of tonnes of earth and rock are dangerously close to the groundwater source, which is exposed to possible contamination and disappearing due to industrial overuse.


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Radio what?

Exposure to radioactivity can cause respiratory problems, birth defects, leukemia and cancer. Disease and poor health abound in this region, and death rates linked to respiratory problems are twice that of the rest of the country. Yet AREVA has failed to take responsibility by not conducting a full independent study around the mines and mining towns in Niger followed by a thorough clean up and decontamination. Local people have not been educated about the risks associated with radioactive materials and we’ve heard reports that people don’t even know what “radioactive” means. In fact, AREVA’S company-controlled hospitals have actually been accused of misdiagnosing cases of cancer and HIV. Read the full report.

If this isn’t bad enough, they also claim there has never been one case of cancer attributed to mining in 40 years. The small missing detail of this claim is that the local hospitals do have occupational doctors until very recently, making it impossible for someone to be diagnosed with a work-related illness. The governmental agency in place to monitor or control AREVA’S actions is understaffed and under funded. A comprehensive, independent assessment of the uranium mining impacts has never taken place.

We are calling for a full independent study around the mines and towns of Arlit and Akokan, followed by a thorough clean up and decontamination. AREVA needs to start acting like the responsible company that it claims to be. The people of Arlit and Akokan continue to be surrounded by poisoned air, contaminated soil and polluted water while AREVA makes hundreds of millions from their natural resources. The Nigerien people deserve to live in a safe, clean and healthy environment, and to share in the profits from the exploitation of their land.

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